AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Creating inclusive environments in education & employment for people with disabilities.


Surviving College 101

It’s that time of year again, students are busy preparing for the college year 2016/2017. Whether you’re going to college for the first time or returning to college for your next year, there are a lot of things to think about. We hope this blog will provide you with some ideas and a checklist to help make this busy time more manageable.

Money Matters!

It is important that you are aware of  additional costs involved in going to college bar the obvious ones such as rent, bills, food, transport, credit for your mobile phone and of course enough money to have a social life! 

 Student Contribution Fee

The Student Contribution Fee or Registration Fee as it’s sometimes called, is a fee that undergraduates students who are in receipt of the ‘Free Fees’ scheme have to pay.  It is currently €3,000 for the 2016/17 academic year.

You may also have to pay a fee which goes directly to the college or university, for example, a student services fee which goes towards the student union, materials or a compulsory gym membership charge etc… This could mean a few hundred euro extra on top of your Student Contribution Fee.

Your college or university website will be able to tell you exactly how much you have to pay and the deadlines for doing so, some colleges allow the fee to be paid in instalments also.

However, if you have been awarded a Student Maintenance Grant, you will more than likely have this fee or a percentage of it paid on your behalf.

If you haven’t already applied for a grant, check your eligibility and apply through SUSI.ie. You can also check out our page on Student Finance

 Stationery Costs / Books

Your college or university will have a library which you can borrow books from but usually there are strict lending loan times on most books so sometimes you may have to buy a book which you use often. Books can cost as much as €50 each!

And then if you haven’t kept all of your stationery and folders from second level or the previous year, you may need to purchase these alongside some highlighters, coloured tabs etc…

Maybe you will need a new laptop and maybe you will need to buy Microsoft Office too?! BUT why not use a free version of Microsoft Office or even Google Docs when writing your assignments or a project? Google Docs automatically backs up your documents, you can access it from any computer and anywhere in the world also save as a Word document or PDF!

With all of these costs, it is wise to prepare a budget now, so you can estimate how much money you will need in the first month for initial expenses and then an average cost per month after that.

Orientation Week

If you’re a new student going to college for the first time, you are what is called a ‘Freshman’!

Most colleges have an orientation week or freshers’ week, all new entrants start a week prior to the teaching term starting. It’s important to go to this so you can feel settled in when teaching starts. Every college is different but most colleges will offer tours of the library. And although it sounds boring, it’s actually quite important as you are given information about how to search for books, how to loan books out of the library, where the computer labs are based etc…

You may also be shown around your lecture rooms and halls, the canteen and given some tips on assignment writing and study skills. Apart from all that, it’s a great way to meet the people who are also in your course for the first time.

During this week, you can also join various clubs and societies, go out to social events organised by the student union.

 Registration Week

All students must register with the college when they start. Often there are different registration times for different courses in each college so be sure to check with your college and course when your student registration is.

When you arrive to register, you may be asked to bring documentation i.e. proof you have paid your fees, identification or proof of your address. Check to see what is required of you so you don’t have to make two trips!

When you provide them with your documentation and register, you will then usually get your Student ID card and Student Handbook (if your college provides you with one) which has a diary and details of different services available in the college.

 Disability / Access Office

If you have already registered with the disability office, this could have been through the DARE scheme or you mentioned it on your CAO, you may receive a notification to meet with the Disability or Access Office. If you haven’t received anything and do require support during the academic year, don’t worry, you can still register at any time with the Disability or Access service.

When you are registered, you are usually assigned a Disability Officer or Access Officer; this person will be your main point of contact throughout. You may also have to provide evidence of your disability to ensure that funding can be applied for and for supports to be put in place.

The Disability or Access Officer will do an assessment of need with you, which means they will ask you various questions about your disability, how you cope with certain needs and look at the course you are going into. A report is then produced with a list of supports to be put in place.

This could mean anything from extra time in exams, a notetaker, assistive technology, one to one tuition, specific supports such as advanced notes before class etc…

To find out more about what the Disability or Access Service do click here

 Student Services

Not only do you have your lectures, a library and the disability or access office, but you have a wealth of other services available to you so make sure you get familiar with them and use them. An example of some of the other services are;

  • Student Union
  • Library
  • Sports Centre
  • Careers Service
  • Counselling Service
  • Health Services
  • Chaplaincy Service

You can read more about these student services here.

Managing Your Time

Managing your time in college is extremely important! Don’t underestimate how much time you need for study. They say for every hour of a lecture, you should do 2 hours of study time for that hour.

Your calendar will be your best friend, but only if it’s well-kept and synced! Organise your calendar with your class times, study times, any meetings or events you may have to keep well on track. Online calendars are great as they can sync to your phone and email account.

Below is an example.

Google Calednar Screenshot

Making the transition from school to college can be tough, as you are now responsible for your own motivation and education. It's important to remember the subtle differences between being in school and in college/university.


College / University

  • Your full day is planned for you
  • Staggered classes
  • Average 5 – 10 hours of study time a week
  • Expected to study at least 10 hours a week
  • You must attend school
  • Attendance is your responsibility
  • Parents and teachers remind you to get work done
  • You are responsible for getting your work done on time for deadlines.

I hope this has given you some insight on how to survive college, especially if you're about to go to college for the first time. Check out our cool video on Top Tips for New Students if you haven't already. 

Don't forget you can always get in touch with AHEAD through our Information Officer on +353 1 592 1467 or email ahead@ahead.ie for any queries you may have or you can also email me - getahead@ahead.ie. 

Don't forget to check out our Facebook page and give us a like! 

Caroline McGrotty
GetAHEAD Project Co-ordinator

First published on 26th August 2015. 

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Creating Inclusive Environments in Education and Employment for People with Disabilities

East Hall, UCD, Carysfort Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin.
T +353 1 592 1467 E ahead@ahead.ie W www.ahead.ie RCN 20025182